Contents   Next


There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do,
She gave them some broth without any bread,
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

These are the words of a Mother Goose classic nursery rhyme and we have all heard them since we were children. Now these words have a new meaning.

"She whipped them all soundly"? She didn’t sing or read to them? This is the way children are to be treated?

Children were always considered their parents’ property. They were non-persons without any rights or say in their lives. Parents could discipline a child as they saw fit. The attitude was that parents knew what was best and good for their children and so wouldn’t harm them. That has not turned out to be true. For centuries, there were no child abuse laws on the books.

Some abuse such as threats, pinching, ear yanking, name-calling or even scolding were not considered to be abuse.

Neither were there any child labor laws. My uncle was five years old and worked in the mines in Larkesville, Pennsylvania. This was an accepted way of life. As soon as a child was able to contribute to the family budget, he went off to work.

Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was walking by an apartment house in New York City when he heard a child screaming. He found a young girl being stabbed with scissors by her parents who thought she was a witch. This was their explanation.

The year was 1874, and Bergh took the parents to court. It was the first case argued successfully for the rights of a child. For the first time, society accepted the responsibility to protect a child from her parents.

In the early 1960s, states and the federal government became aware of the idea that children have rights within the family that may require legal protection.

In 1974 Congress enacted the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. This Act formally defined child abuse and neglect and provided federal funds to address the issue. In 1981 legislation was enacted to deal with actual cases of child abuse. This act requires each state, as a condition for funding of state programs, to have mandatory reporting laws. Since that time there has been a steady increase in reported cases of child abuse. We can only guess that unreported cases number several times those that come to light.

Something terrible is happening in the world today. Children are abusing children. You have only to read the daily paper to see proof of this. In the past six years there has been a "significant increase in juvenile crime in the most serious categories: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault." (Time, Sept. 1994)

Governor Pete Wilson of California has signed a bill which lowers the age to 14 that a youth can be tried as an adult. Arkansas and Georgia have the same law.

Child abuse can begin long before the child is born. The mother that abuses drugs may unknowingly be abusing the unborn baby. The baby is born prematurely with a wide range of symptoms, many resembling those of a drug addict. These children are doomed to a short agonizing life with debilitations and physical and mental shortcomings. No baby deserves to enter the world in this manner.

Adult women who were abused as children complain of depression and concern for sexual adequacy. Adult men have the personality trait of extreme aggressiveness. Many do not become abusive to their children, but the probability is great that the pattern will continue.

The birth rate is rising among unwed teenaged girls. So children are being raised by children. There is no male role model and no stable home life. Because of poor educational background, economic deprivation and lack of family support, child abuse becomes a real possibility.

Poor children are always at risk for abuse. Homelessness is a horrible experience to visit upon a child. Without the anchor of a home base, the child grows up in a dysfunctional family with no familial and societal values to guide him through life. Many families can’t afford health insurance and so the child is denied even the basic protection of vaccinations and immunizations. Failure to keep a child healthy is abuse.

Hundreds of thousands of preschool children spend their day in substandard surroundings, many precariously dangerous. 

Without affordable day care, many school children are forced to become “latch-key kids.” They go home to an empty house without adult supervision and are left to their own devices. The responsibility placed upon these children is overwhelming at times.

Child abuse is a learned pattern, and awareness is the key to freeing society from that behavior. Studies show that behavior can be cured or changed.

Abuse comes in many guises. The intention of this book is to help the reader become aware of the various forms of child abuse and to explore solutions to this terrible scourge.